BioBanks: Serving Society in the 21st Century

Article posted on: 27 September 2016

Advances in Science vs. Protection of Individuals

Adapting to a new reality

Nowadays, we are witnessing innovating debates on relevant and critical issues, such as how to improve biobanking practices. The changes put forward by Regulation (EU) 2016/679 on 27 April 2016 by the European Parliament and Council, which addressed the protection of a physical person’s personal data and the free circulation of this data, provides us with a new legal framework for the management of biobanks. Furthermore, a number of changes have the potential to build a sustainable biobanking structure: the harmonisation and interaction between the genetic data banks through Europe and the world, call for the fixation of certain basic authorisation and functioning requisites for biomedical research biobanks in each country.

It is very important to keep moving forward in the prevention, treatment and care of diseases, of which biomedical research is highly dependent on the availability of large numbers of cases, which include top quality biological samples and their associated data. All the homologated research centers must be engaged in collaborative networks so that wide scale multicenter research projects can be implemented.

Biomedical research is necessary

Biomedical research is necessary to improve the prevention, as well as the care of those who are already suffering a disease. This implies that human samples for research must follow different procedures than those of biological banks. According to the scientific community, an inadequate access to these samples is considered the main bottleneck for research in healthcare - biobanks are the most logical place where a solution to this issue may arise.

Biobanks should not be looked upon as static organisations, but rather as bodies that constantly evolve with the development of new techniques and new scientific aims. In order to achieve the precise current requisites in genetic banking, the scientific community confronts biobanks with a number of essential challenges, including elements such as a proper, harmonised design, improved procedures and sustainability; all of these within the framework of their social, legal, and ethical dimensions. 

Biobanks: the basis of personalised medicine

Biobanks have been identified as a key area for the development of personalised medicine, with the aim to accelerate the discovery of therapeutic targets and the development of new drugs and diagnostic tests.

There is also a quality issue: biomedical research is a rapidly developing field which requires the improvement of the methodology of the classification of biological samples. At the same time, biobanks are in turn professionally organised and structured to maximise quality management, by working in networks that will allow them to combine and to share resources.

Biobanks must function on a high professional level, in which the formation and certification must be emphasised, provided, of course, that they have adequate funding. The increasingly higher presence of national and international biobank networks is creating synergies. The development of a community of biobanks will facilitate teamwork to overcome common challenges and improve communications with multiple groups sharing common interests.

There are controversies due to the complexity of this issue and the high expectations raised by it. There are many variants, but one aspect of it is certain: personalised medicine is a new and unquestionable reality that needs the biobanks to exploit its full potential, which is very high.

From the point of view of the patient, biobanks guarantee the confidentiality of their data and a proper use and management of their biological samples, thus favouring quality biomedical research and the advance of the new personalised medicine for the direct benefit of both the patients and the society. From the point of view of the research community, the biobank facilitates access to the largest possible number of biological samples registered in accordance to a series of requisites of quality, gratuity and transparency which provides both the system and the researcher with solid legal certainty.

This issue is to be discussed at the Genomics Summit which is part of the HIMSS Europe World of Health IT (WoHIT) Conference & Exhibition taking place on 21–22 November 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.

Jaime Del Barrio Seoane. President Asociación Salud Digital, Spain